By Brad McLeod
Yesterday was a historic day in the world of chess as 25-year-old Ryan Whiteman, became the first player in a professional tournament to start a game with a black piece. Whiteman’s match in the first round of the annual Vancouver International Chess Championship marked an end to a nearly millennium-long oppression of black pieces.
Traditionally the game chess has always contained an archaic and ritualistic opening procedure which gave players an unfair advantage based purely on colour. Whiteman’s opening manoeuvre ended this longstanding intolerance for black pieces and has given new hope to the nearly dozens of young chess fans across the globe.
“It was amazing,” remarked one young chess enthusiast. “For the first time in my life I looked at a chess board and didn’t see the pieces as black or white, I just for what they were . . . plastic game tokens.”Another older and most likely senile attendee declared the event to be “the single most important moment in the history of sports.”
Despite this outpouring of admiration, Whiteman has also felt criticism from chess traditionalists who called the move “illegal”. “It is simply not allowed,” said one such ‘expert’, Irving Reginald Higgins, professor of chess studies at Harvard. “The rules state the player with the white pieces must go first.” Despite these sorts of racist allegations from educated hate-mongers, Whiteman remains unfazed by his detractors as he has had to deal with similar persecution his entire career.
Whiteman, who was born in raised in the upper-class Pennsylvania community of Carlton Estates, has been the target of mistreatment since he began playing chess while attending St. Francis Preparatory Academy. Although he was allowed to be a part of the school’s chess team in his elementary years his insistence on starting with black pieces led him to be frequently singled out by his teachers for not playing the ‘right’ way.
The persecution became more severe during his teen years as Whiteman was unfairly cut by his school’s non-progressive chess team for four straight years. In the face of segregation from his peers, Whiteman was forced to play alone in the school cafeteria where he recalls being ridiculed and verbally abused, being called names like ‘nerd’ and ‘idiot’ by students not even involved in the chess program.
The intolerance continued even after graduation from high school and Whiteman was barred by the MLC (Major League Chess) from entering any of their professional chess tournaments despite having a flawless record (0 losses in 0 games). This prompted a civil action lawsuit against the league in which Whiteman threatened to sue for $20 million. Although his case against the league was very weak, in order to avoid the complication of a law suit the MLC decided to allow Whiteman to participate in the local tournament.
Whiteman lost yesterday’s opening round match in less than two minutes to three-time defending world champion Karif Abdul-Rahim of Nigeria.